EU fails in legal action against AstraZeneca over vaccine delay

The EU has lost a legal attempt to force AstraZeneca to speed up delivery of doses of its Covid-19 vaccines or face large fines, in the latest twist in a bitter battle over delivery shortfalls.

A court in Brussels ruled on Friday that the company must deliver only a fraction of what the European Commission had demanded, and less than the existing delivery schedule lays out.

The court instructed AstraZeneca to deliver a total of 80m doses by late September, a target it should meet easily, as it has already supplied about 70m shots. That fell far short of the commission’s demand of 300m doses by the end of September.

The result is a blow to the commission, which had wanted the company to be ordered to deliver 120m shots by the end of June, with a fine of €10 per dose per day for any shortfall, penalties that could have run into billions of euros.

However, officials insisted the case was justified and pointed to the judgment’s criticism of AstraZeneca’s “big mistake” in failing to honour the original delivery timetable.

The ruling found that the pharma company’s failure to send the EU vaccines made at an Oxford BioMedica plant in the UK was inconsistent with making the “best reasonable efforts” on supply required by its contract. But it did not order AstraZeneca to use the plant to fulfil the EU order.

AstraZeneca was originally expected to supply up to 300m doses to the EU in the first six months of this year but that forecast was cut sharply after production problems.

Both sides claimed victory in the unusual legal battle, with AstraZeneca saying it was pleased with the court order, and the commission saying it confirmed its position.

However, in practice, the decision should have no impact on AstraZeneca, which is expecting to deliver the next 10m doses before the end of this month.

AstraZeneca said it looked forward to renewed collaboration with the commission. Jeffrey Pott, AstraZeneca’s general counsel, said: “AstraZeneca has fully complied with its agreement with the European Commission and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of supplying an effective vaccine, which we are delivering at no profit to help protect people in Europe and around the world from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, also notched the verdict up as a win. 

“This decision confirms the position of the commission: AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract. It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this,” she said